It wasn’t all pretty on Sunday as the Green Bay Packers snapped their three-game losing streak with a gritty 23-16 victory over their hated rivals from Chicago. If Green Bay can sustain its offensive performance from the second half of that game, there’s plenty to be optimistic about heading into the final seven-game stretch.
The season, for better or worse, rests on the arm of quarterback Brett Hundley. Patience has been a virtue for Packers fans and media who, in my opinion, have been unfairly critical of Hundley after just two professional starts. But the UCLA product’s third start was clearly his best as a pro and was a reward for waiting.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hundley finished the game with the Packers’ third-highest grade, while recording a 110.0 passer rating when under pressure. The eye test also pointed to a more composed Hundley in the second half as the game’s outcome hung in the balance. Hundley was able to make efficient throws over the middle and navigate his second and third progressions more smoothly, as evidenced by a third down completion to Lance Kendricks in the flat early in the third quarter. Later, he wisely scrambled 17 yards to convert another third down and lead Green Bay into the red zone.
Third-and-4 for Hundley. Stands tall in the pocket, doesn't panic, gets to his check down and finds Lance Kendricks wide open with a perfect throw in stride to pick up a first down. pic.twitter.com/fg3SUN6ozF— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) November 13, 2017
And when the game was on the line in the final quarter, Hundley delivered two beautiful passes to Davante Adams. One was a Rodgers-esque back-shoulder touchdown throw that was exactly where it needed to be on an improvised scramble to his right. The other was a 42-yard cold-blooded missile on 3rd and 10, a call that neither Packers fans nor Chris Spielman in the FOX booth expected. Whether it was the extra week of practice, game experience, or gum chewing, Hundley’s second half performance has to be exciting for Packers fans moving forward.
Brett Hundley out here looking like Aaron Rodgers pic.twitter.com/j6sjIIs8Zi— Midfield Media (@midfieldmedia) November 12, 2017
There also has to be a certain level of optimism in regards to Mike McCarthy’s playcalling in the second half. For weeks, the head coach has come under fire for simplifying the game plan too much for Hundley and being too predictable. Against the Bears, McCarthy not only went to the air with Hundley on the final drive, he opened the playbook to feature Randall Cobb in the Wildcat formation twice in the second half. So far, only designed run and option plays have been seen, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see Green Bay design pass plays from this package in the coming weeks.
Speaking of the running game, Aaron Ripkowski was a much bigger part of the offense than usual and the rushing attack noticeably received a boost. Ripkowski’s 22 offensive snaps against Chicago were his most since his 22 against Seattle in week one, and his two rushes matched his total for the season coming into the game. While he was not as effective as a runner, Ripkowski’s blocking was on display on several occasions in opening holes for Jamaal Williams and aiding Hundley in pass protection. A heavier dose of Ripkowski going forward should further help the Packers’ offense in each of those roles.
This piece could not be complete without talking about the inspired play of Williams, who received an unexpected boost in snaps due to the injuries of Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery. After receiving only 11 offensive snaps since week five, Williams was thrust into action in the second half and displayed his bruising, in-between-the-tackles running traits that made him a standout at BYU. With seven unofficial broken tackles according to offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, Williams fell forward, fighting for extra yardage each carry in true old-school, cold weather running back fashion. The stats may only show 3.4 yards per rush, but Williams’ ability to churn out first downs - four in the second half - was instrumental for Green Bay. It doesn’t get much better than this first down rumble in which Williams bulldozed Kyle Fuller:
Per @PFF, 55 of Jamaal Williams 67 yards were gained after contact. You won't find many 4-yard runs as impressive as this one. #Packers pic.twitter.com/sjc6CfvJSc— Steve Frederick (@SportsGuyTweets) November 13, 2017
As Jones looks to be sidelined for three to six weeks with an MCL sprain and Ty Montgomery’s return timetable remains uncertain, Williams has a legitimate opportunity to build on his Sunday performance and become the long-awaited thunder to Jones’ lightning as the weather gets colder. The presence of those young running backs with something to prove will only help take the pressure off Hundley to orchestrate a season-saving run. As alluded to a month ago, the Packers have been successful without Rodgers when they can eclipse 100 rushing yards.
If only for a moment, the offense’s second half in the Packers win over the Bears provides a welcomed glimpse of hopefulness after three long, miserable weeks. Whether Green Bay can duplicate that performance against the Baltimore Ravens this week will be a true indicator of the Packers’ postseason outlook.